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Not with a Bang, but with a Whimper

It has been a while since I’ve posted and I figure it’s probably time to explain what happened with regards to the attempts by Gaijin Entertainment to forcibly obtain my domain, gaijin.com.

The answer is, unsurprisingly, that I won. However, it ended not with a bang but with a whimper.

The fight was over in November of 2013 and I could have written about it then but decided to hold off in case there was any further legal trickery that required attention.

After serving me with a Universal Domain Name Dispute Complaint, I found myself to be luckily connected with Paul Alan Levy and Public Citizen, who decided to take my case. There was a series of emails that went back and forth between the counsel of Gaijin Entertainment and my own counsel, all of which were entertaining to read.

Paul told them “no, nothing doing, and we’ll be going to court if you persist.” At this point, Gaijin Entertainment’s legal team opted to “suspend” the UDRP complaint. Suspension of these complaints lasts for one calendar month, during which time parties are expected to come to a settlement. At the end of the month, if there has been no activity, the complaint is automatically withdrawn (though without prejudice – meaning it can be refiled), and a certain percentage of the fees are returned to the complaining party.

Eventually, Gaijin Entertainment offered a “settlement” agreement, which effectively read as follows:

  • I, and all successors of the domain, recognize and acknowledge Gaijin Entertainment’s ownership and rights to the trademark “Gaijin”, worldwide;
  • I, and all successors of the domain, agree not to challenge the trademark;
  • I, and all successors or the domain, agree not to seek registration of the trademark “gaijin”;
  • I enter a confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement regarding Gaijin Entertainment;
  • I agree to place a prominent disclaimer on my website pointing visitors to the Gaijin Entertainment website;
  • And that the agreement would be binding to all successors of the domain.

Unsurprisingly, our response was akin to “sit and spin”. The language was stronger, however. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to guess the precise vocabulary.

After another few weeks, the URDP suspension period expired and the complaint was automatically withdrawn.

I’ve heard nothing since.

Hopefully now I’ll be able to write more without fear.

Posted in Life, Topical, Whatever. Tagged with .


Gaijin Entertainment has Served Me with a UDRP Complaint

In May of this year I was served a cease and desist letter from a company named Gaijin Entertainment. They demanded that I turn over this domain, gaijin.com, which I had registered in 1995, to them, a company founded in 2002, based on a claim of “trademark infringement.”

Obviously, I was not going to do that. I have never operated a game development business through this domain or name. Even if I had, there exists seven years of prior art in my name. My attorney, Mike Godwin, sent them a letter stating that I was not going to entertain the idea and that they should retract their claim.

There were no further comments from Gaijin Entertainment and I thought that was the end of it.

On Friday, October 4th, Mike Godwin and I were notified that Gaijin Entertainment had filed a Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution (UDRP) claim to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). In it they claim that I am doing damage to their trademark and seek to have the domain name stripped from me and awarded to them due to trademark violation.

I have the word “courage” tattooed on my arm. I am not going to let this happen without a fight.

Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen has agreed to represent me regarding this issue. He has asked opposing counsel to withdraw the UDRP claim.

If they do not, we will seek a declaratory judgment of non-infringement in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, taking the fight to them rather than waiting around.

Among the complaints are some interesting bullet points.

  • My domain name, registered on May 22, 1995, “fully incorporates” the “Gaijin” wordmark, which was not registered until October 11, 2011.
  • One of the most prominent tags within my blog is “Games” and this apparently confuses people.
  • I am apparently not using the word “gaijin” correctly (note that Gaijin Entertainment is not, either, so I’m unsure why this would be a thing). For sake of explanation, I chose the word “gaijin”, meaning “foreigner” or “alien” because at the time I was studying philosophical principles regarding identity and definition – specifically about how things are defined through contrast and opposition, and therefore my own identity, from my perspective, was always and forever going to be “alien” to me (since I cannot see myself except as in opposition).
  • Certain blog posts of mine have bad words in them and apparently tarnish other people’s reputations.
  • My email address apparently confuses people into thinking I am an employee of their company.
  • I am apparently attempting to extort $750,000.00 dollars from them. This comes from a throw-away email exchange I apparently had with one of their employees. I have never had any intention to sell the domain but if someone seriously offered me a million dollars I’d be negligent in not considering the offer. I get offers at least once a month and always for some paltry sum (like $100 dollars). Telling people to throw out a “big number” usually ends the conversations quickly.
  • The fact that I show up after them in Google searches means that I am somehow diverting traffic from them.

Below is a pdf of the complaint.

Gaijin_WIPO UDRP Complaint_AS_v10 4 2013

Posted in Life, Topical, Whatever. Tagged with .


Gone Home: A Game that is Art

Gone_HomeThere will be no spoilers in this review.

I wish that Roger Ebert were still alive so that he could play Gone Home and finally experience a video game that can be clearly and unequivocably called “art.”

I wrote a thing once that attempted to tackle his statement that “video games can never be art.” Basically I said that the definition of the word “art” is what we have disagreement on and that a lot of what gamers think of as “art” isn’t so we should all just get over ourselves.

(Only I used a lot of swear words and I made a lot of references to pornography.)

Gone Home is art. I cannot think of a better word for it as it matches both the definitions I hold and the way Roger described what art is. Gone Home is an experience, but it is one that changes based on how the game is played but most importantly around who the player is. It is a series of layers, each one altering your understanding of the situation.

In Gone Home, you take the role of Kaitlin Greenbriar, a young woman who, on June 7th, 1995, has returned after spending a year abroad to the house where her parents and younger sister, Sam, live, near Portland, Oregon. She takes a shuttle from the airport to the house only to find it deserted – her family missing – and with no explanation for the events.

Determining what happened is the goal of the game. Throughout the game, you search the house. You find clues – papers, photos, tapes, etc. – all of which help you to piece together a puzzle. Not all clues are essential to “finishing” the game but missing one will alter your understanding of what exactly happened. In fact, there are clues that can be missed that will radically alter your understanding of the picture, to the point where it becomes a Romeo and Juliet level tragedy.

And that, right there, is the essential part of the game’s mechanic and why it meets Roger’s definition. With most “story” games like Grand Theft Auto IV or Red Dead Redemption, it is true that player choice largely does not affect the outcome. In many cases you might as well be watching an exceptionally long movie: the story is meted out in fashion, we are shown all of it, and we are told what the story means.

However, in Gone Home, the story and its meaning are absolutely dependant on your actions. It can be a story of happiness or tragedy or one of any point in the continuum of emotion. Best, its position changes as your understanding changes, and it is this mutability that gives the game its magic.

Further, the experience is one that will change you as a player. You may identify with everything that is happening (echoes of nostalgia) or you may find yourself understanding foreign experiences with empathy.

No game has ever left me in tears at the end. This one has, and I am glad for it.

Play this immediately. It takes about 2 to 4 hours. Do it in one sitting.

Posted in Reviews. Tagged with .


It’s just “Problems” and “Context”

The phrase “first-world problems” is the Godwin’s Law of social discussion.

A “first-world problem” is a difficulty which is really only felt by the privileged in this world. First-world “problems” are, in theory, issues that any citizen of a second- or third-world country will never encounter due to rank poverty or other issues due to societal infrastructure. Complaining about a first-world problems is like complaining about how much tax you have to pay: it’s a problem you want to have.

There are no “first-world problems.” There are just “problems” and their contexts.

Its usage bugs the fuck out of me and I’m going to tell you why.

First, let’s talk about how the phrase is used and the implied meanings.

Consider this exchange:

Me: “It sucks that there’s a new Starbucks opening on the block! It’s going to put my local coffee shop out of business.”
You: “Isn’t that a first-world problem?”

What you are really saying this: “There are poor people in the world who don’t even have coffee shops, or even the dream of them, so shut the fuck up and quit whining! Don’t you feel guilty for being privileged enough to even have a coffee shop?”

If I describe an issue I’m having, and you respond with “that’s a first world problem,” you are not responding in any meaningful way to the statement. You are saying instead, “what you want to talk about is stupid and we should instead consider this other thing that I want to talk about.” It is a fundamentally selfish thing to say, slathered in self-righteousness.

I am being told to shut up. It takes my (possibly very real, possibly very serious) problem and removes it from its local context, and puts it up on a much bigger stage. Suddenly my problem isn’t that serious.

It is true that, when weighed against the Grand Scale of Human Suffering, a chain coffee shop’s opening does not move the needle. I will not argue this.

I will argue that such a comparison is irrelevant.

No matter how great the tragedy, a comparison to the Holocaust will make it seem minor. Consider the above conversation, only with the volume turned up:

Me: “230,000 people were killed in the 2004 Indonesian tsunami.”
You: “Yeah, well, over six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.”

Some day the heat death of the universe is going to happen. We don’t have conversations within the context that someday everything is going to end.

When compared to the millions of starving children or people in Syria being attacked with Sarin gas, the importance of nearly every problem shrinks. That doesn’t make these problems any less real or relevant.

When insurance doesn’t pay for your child’s occupational therapy, that’s a problem we only have in the first world. It’s still a problem. The context is localized. It isn’t productive to move it out of that context.

There is a more subtle and sinister effect to the use of the phrase. It happens when we self-deprecate our own statements and ultimately harms the overall issue of recognizing privilege.

When I say, “I know this is a first-world problem but I can’t decide if I want to buy the new XBox,” I am short-circuiting a conversation about my privilege. It’s a weak nod to the fact that my problem only exists because I have enough privilege for it to be a problem.

I believe conversations about privilege are important and we should definitely be having them more often and with greater sincerity and perspective. However, the power of such a discussion lies with it not becoming trivialized.

If I handwave an acknowledgement of my privilege, am I really recognizing it? I was born in the USA, I’m male, and I’m (by all appearances) white. All of my problems are “first-world;” there is no way around this. I recognize this and I’d like to think I’m doing what I can to flatten the privilege curve but the fact is that it exists.

If we are forced to recognize privilege with every conversation it becomes rote catechism – ultimately meaningless, exercised without empathy – which is the exact opposite of what should be happening.

So we should stop using the phrase. Just stop. The key to recognizing and remembering your privilege is to not make it trivial, which is what the phrase does.

(I want to point out that ranting about this is absolutely a first-world problem. I am fully aware of the irony. It does not, however, negate my point.)

Posted in Topical, Whatever. Tagged with .


How I came to say “FUCK” on Christian Radio

This is the story of how I said the word “Fuck” really loud over the air on a Christian radio station. On a Sunday morning. During services.

And got away with it.

Who has two thumbs and still carries his FCC license?

Who has two thumbs and still carries his FCC license?

Many moons ago, I went to kollidge and lerned sumthings. Mostly about oil painting and philosophy (two subjects that are clearly of demand in this adult economy), but I also learned a lot about radio because I was a disk jockey for the college station, WMUL FM 88.1.

I slotted tracks for a year or so before being promoted to the “producer” of the “Alternative” format. This was just as the grunge era was taking off, so being involved in music at this time was an amazing thing. On half of the nights of the week, I spun in the local “alternative” nightclub, Gumby’s, which was also an amazing thing. I got paid in beer.

I went to CMJ, got in a fight with G.G. Allin (about two months before his death), drank a whole bottle of Jack Daniel’s with David Yow of The Jesus Lizard, interviewed lots of artists, and picked up a whole shoebox of phone numbers (which were never called).

I loved this gig. I’d probably do it today if there were any money in it. Which there wasn’t.

To make money, though, I got a job at another radio station. A different kind of radio station. A Christian radio station.

Imagine my gravelly ass voice saying, “You’re listening to the broadcast voice of Jesus Christ in the tri-state, FM 107 point 9, WEMM.”

Mostly the job consisted of overnights or weekend mornings and it was nearly always pushing “carts”. For the un-enlightened, “carts” were like eight-track cassettes except that they looped forever and knew when to stop playing. Radio programs used them (do they still?) for intros and outtros (both were on the same cart, in sequence).

Carts are “fire and forget”. You slot it, pot it (turn up the broadcast volume for it), press play, wait for it to count down, and then start the program, usually provided on cassette tape or (rarely, in those days) compact disc or vinyl.

So my time, especially on Sunday mornings, was spent thus:

  1. Slot the cart (5 seconds)
  2. Slot the tape (5 seconds)
  3. Fire the cart, wait for the intro to finish (15 – 30 seconds)
  4. Fire the tape (2 seconds)
  5. Read a book (30 minutes)
  6. Fire the cart’s outtro (15 seconds)
  7. Repeat for 6 hours

Anyways it was pretty boring but I was basically getting paid ten bucks an hour to re-read Lord of the Rings.

Normally the Sunday shows were pre-recorded but every now and then there was a little preacher man who would stop by the studio and run it live. He had a little retinue who accompanied him: a woman to play piano and a middle-aged guitarist. They would set up in Studio B, where there was a piano and multiple microphones.

Studio B was wired up so that it was connected to a single “pot,” or potentiometer. Pots are sort-of almost like “volume controls” – they determine how strong the broadcast is going to be from their source. Higher = louder.

Pots are usually color-coded. In this case: red for turntables, blue for carts, green for cassettes. Gold for my mike; silver for the mikes in Studio B.

Anyways. These guys show up and get set up in Studio B. The time comes for them to go live, so I put on my headphones (you always do this when manipulating on-air sound), and I slot their intro cart. They know to be silent until I give them the “go” signal, which is exactly as cool as you think it is: they’re looking at me through the glass, and I just turn and point to them.

So here’s what happens:

I start the intro and I crack the silver pot up to about 1/4. The intro plays, and when it starts to fade, I do the cool-ass finger-pointing while fading down the cart. In Studio B, they immediately start going to town: I see her start banging away on the piano, and he’s dealing thunder from the pulpit.

But my headphones, they are silent. The needle is flat.

Sometimes the mikes are wonky, so I crank the silver pot up some more. Nothing, just a hiss in the headphones. We’re now about five seconds into DEAD AIR, which is every DJ’s nightmare. I’m confused, so I say to myself:

What the fuck?

And the headphones bleed back to me, very loud, “what the fuck-uck-uck-uck” while the needle on the board pegs itself all the way to the right.

I’d cranked up the gold pot. My microphone. Not the silver pot, which was Studio B.

Oops.

I fixed the mike situation and sat down, defeated, in the chair. I spent the next half hour waiting for the little yellow light by the phone to start blinking. The phone call that was going to be my last act as a professional DJ (because seriously, who is going to hire me?).

The light never fired. The little preacher man and his people packed it up an hour later and left.

I guess they had a listenership of exactly zero because no one called to complain. I had that job for another three months before I was finally let go – but for different reasons.

I wasn’t a “cultural fit”. No shit, Sherlock. I was a long-haired metalhead who wasn’t shy about expressing his disdain for organized religion.

I was surprised they hired me in the first place.

Posted in Life, Whatever. Tagged with , .


Ink

ouchSometimes we lie about our futures without knowing.

For many years, when asked about getting ear piercings or tattoos, I would say, “I’m going out the same way I came in, with no extra holes or colors.”

That turned out to be a lie.

I (currently) have five tattoos, inked into my flesh in seven sessions, over the course of around 15 hours of my life. Each one of them has meaning for me, and a few are intended to mean things to other people. All of them are hidden if I wear long-sleeved shirts; only two are visible normally.

In order of application:

The Mani Mantra

chest-tattooOver my heart is tattooed the Sanskrit for the Mani Mantra (om mani padme hum). It is a complicated sigil to explain, so bear with me.

There is a painting called The Treachery of Images by René Magritte. I’m certain you’ve seen it. It is an image of a pipe and with the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (literally, “This is not a pipe”). The painting is a comment on the existentialist position that the symbol of a thing is not the thing itself.

Did you ever see the Bruce Lee film, Enter the Dragon? There is a short (but important) scene where Lee instructs a student. He has a great line: “Words are fingers that point at the moon. Once you see the moon, you no longer need the finger.” The word “apple” is not a physical apple, it is a representation of an apple.

The concept of “symbol” not being the “object” is one that has stymied philosophers for thousands of years. It seems basic, that words are representations.

The Mani Mantra is the opposite of that idea.

The Mantra is the embodiment of Avalokiteśvara, a bodhisattva who embodies the idea of compassion. In context, there is no difference between the bodhisattva and the words used to describe it. To say the words is to invoke the deity.

Many believe that reciting the mantra brings the world closer to perfection. The more it is said, the further we (as a an existing thing) walk down the path towards unifying compassion. In Nepal I obtained a prayer wheel. Inside there is a scroll upon which the mantra is written hundreds of times. Each time the wheel is spun, it is as if the mantra is said hundreds of times as well. Each spin brings us to compassion.

Likewise, every time I take a breath.

It is said that simply knowing that the mantra exists shall protect a person in the deepest of hells. So this tattoo serves a dual purpose: it is both a spiritual armor and an engine for bringing the universe into perfection.

The Protection Sigils

protection-tattooSome time ago I came into possession of a rare book that concerns itself with the practice of “Tibetan Demonology.” How this tome came into my possession is a story in and of itself:

One day a package arrived for me, sent from West Virginia by a friend. He explained thus: “My next door neighbor died of a heart attack last week, and a package was left on his doorstep the next day. I took it, opened it, and thought, ‘Brandon would love this’.” So he sent it to me.

The book’s author died at a young age, ostensibly from pneumonia. However, an urban legend has grown up around this, saying that the very demons he studied were those what caused his death. Accordingly, the book is considered cursed, the idea being that the demons in the world don’t necessarily want mere mortals to have the knowledge of how to protect themselves.

There are rules about handling this book. Never set it flat on the ground. Never point your feet at it. And so forth.

I have a fairly large library and many of the tomes within it concern themselves with spiritual things that I do not believe in. However, despite my relative atheism, I remain a pragmatist, and sometimes it is better to not anger Things We Do Not Understand.

So, of course, I got some protective sigils tattooed over my right kidney. From top to bottom, they protect me from:

  • All kinds of evil caused by the eight classes of supernatural beings
  • Epidemics and illnesses
  • Injury caused by weapons

So more armor.

The Blue Birds and their Tree

treeBy far the largest swath of ink over my body is a tree that covers around half of my back. Leaves swirl from its branches down my right shoulder, and two fat, jolly blue birds are flying there.

I had been planning and designing this tattoo for three years before it was finally applied. It was such a large work that I wanted to be absolutely certain that I was going to cherish it for the rest of my life. It was laid out in two sessions, both lasting about five hours.

The tattoo changed during its construction. I had originally planned to have cherry leaves swirling down my arm, but after the first session both the artist and I agreed that hundreds of leaves probably wouldn’t work. I said, “well, how about some birds, then?” and he agreed that was a good idea.

bluebirdsI had envisioned several dark ravens flapping around in the moonlight. But when I arrived for my next appointment, he showed me a different vision entirely: a pair of fat little blue birds, happily singing in the sun. I was surprised for all of thirty seconds before I realized, with absolute certainty, that his direction was the only way to go.

At the time, I was going through Some Shit. I was depressed and dreary. I felt my life was going nowhere. If he had drawn up ravens, the tattoo would have become about winter. About life ending and shutting down. Instead, with the bluebirds, the image is about an eternal spring: renewal, hope, and moving ever forward.

From that day forward I decided to just trust the artists.

The Indelible Barnstar

barnstarWikipedians express gratitude and congratulations by awarding each other virtual “Barnstars.” The idea is that “it takes many people to build the barn” and you have done your part. There are many, many types of Barnstars.

As a reward for his hard work, several of us pooled money together to buy my friend Oliver a tattoo. Heather designed the “Indelible Barnstar”: a Barnstar with crossbones. Several of us took him to the needle shop to get it; it was a thing. Even our Executive Director, Sue Gardner, showed up to watch.

Now, we’d been talking and joking during the days leading up to the event. Who else could be convinced to get a Barnstar tattoo? There was a lot of “if Sue gets one, I’ll get one.”

Well. I didn’t need a lot of convincing. My life is about Free Culture. To express that is a no-brainer. So I got one (and so did my friend Steven). They got theirs in black; mine in grey. Later I had color added to it.

For Wikimania 2012 I had a thousand temporary tattoos made of Barnstars and handed them out to everyone.

Courage

courageOn the outside of my left forearm is tattooed the word “courage“. I got it with my friend Steven. He wanted a Barnstar on his left shoulder (to match the one on his right) and I said I would go with him to the needle shop because I wanted a new tattoo as well.

This tattoo is not for me. It is for other people.

I had been thinking a lot about the things that define me – my core values and principles. What I wanted to project to the world and what I wanted to see reflected there. I thought long and hard about what those were, and I came up with a mantra to use going forward:

“Let courage be thy bulwark and compassion be thy sword.”

The shield is how we react to the world. The weapon is how we respond. There are many awful and amazing things that happen to us in our journeys; all should be met with unflinching courage. Compassion for the world is how we cleave it.

Whether or not my parents and their parents intended it, I was instilled with a great deal of courage. Courage is not the same thing as “fearless”. Those who lack fear are stupid. Many situations call for fear and its absence is dangerous.

Courage is acting despite being afraid.

I think everyone has courage but they forget. For a time, Dan Rather ended his broadcasts by saying “Courage” to the audience. I liked that; it was inspiring.

The left arm is classically where one wears a shield. Hence its location: outwards-facing, towards the world.

I’m thinking about getting “Compassion” tattooed on the other arm. The jury is still out.

Posted in Creative, Whatever. Tagged with .


Bioshock Infinite: Violence for Violence’s Sake

Let’s talk about Bioshock Infinite.

This will be filled with spoilers. Look away, ye weak-hearted.

Official_cover_art_for_Bioshock_InfiniteBioshock Infinite was billed as being the best game that has come along in years. The hype machine was turned on and the volume kept increasing: past ten, past eleven, up to fifteen at least. And then it was hyped some more.

I bought, played, and finished the game during launch-week and for the most part I enjoyed it. I thought the story and the environment it was set within was absolutely amazing – quite simply a triumph. I also found it wildly schizophrenic.
I felt that its over-reliance on straight up, balzout combat was out of place and off-putting. It was the drunken, racist guest who won’t shut up at Thanksgiving dinner and you wish would just fucking leave.

From here be spoilers.

Bioshock Infinite takes place in the early 1900s. We, that is, the player, a character named Booker, are tasked simply: “Bring us the girl and we’ll forgive the debt.” Ah! It’s a kidnap/rescue mission? Okay. On with the show.

In this game, there exists a floating, idyllic city named “Columbia” and it is there that we must find the girl. The city silently and secretly makes its way around the world, held aloft by the will of mind-bending technology and hot-air balloons. It is a city we are not allowed to enter until we are baptized (though in whose name, we know not).

Once out of the waters, we are treated to a wonderful, enchanting spectacle. It’s a carnival, replete with booths selling candy and allowing us to play fairground games. We learn a great deal about Columbia and her history. Everything is vibrant and alive: the colors are deeply saturated, the citizens are laughing and happy.

There are no monsters. This is a paradise. We can see why one would choose to live here.

Oh, sure, there are signs that all is not well in fairyland. Subtle indications of racism abound (this is, after all, 1912). There are marks of a poor underclass. But these are fleeting glimpses, and we are on a mission to find a girl.

We play games. We pass vendors selling popcorn and cotton candy. Barbershop quartets anachronistically singing Beach Boys songs.

Eventually we find ourselves engaged in a kind of “lottery” game. We pick a baseball out of a basket with a number written on it. Lo and behold, our number is called, and we are the winner!

What is our prize? We are given the honor of firing a fastball at two living, breathing, captive humans – two people whose crime is only that they love each other.

Oh, yes. They’re an interracial couple. The game is “let’s chuck baseballs at the black woman and her race-traitor boyfriend.”

Charming people.

I, of course, chose to launch my baseball at the master of ceremonies instead.

In that instant, a police-person grabs my arm, pointing at a tattoo there, shouting that I am the devil come to Columbia! Holy shit! I’m the bad guy? This is crazy!

Well, you better fucking bet I’m the bad guy. Because in the next ten seconds I, the character, will have literally used a hand-held chainsaw device to chop off the face of one of the policemen trying to arrest me. I’m not even kidding: blood and brains and chunks of bone will fly away in high-fidelity as I am forced to butcher around five dudes, all unarmed.

There are no other options. I have to kill them.

That’s when I get a gun. And I have to kill more people. And keep killing them.

Let’s take a moment and put ourselves in the shoes of the police.

From their perspective, I am a fucking terrorist. They can’t have a clue who I am (even if I am the devil) because I’ve already killed everyone who thought that. I’m just a guy going around and killing cops. All the cops.

Going forwards, Bioshock Infinite ceases to be a game of wonder and exploration. It is now a game of mega-violent, gory combat (usually versus innocent, albeit racist policemen), punctuated by bits of wonder and exploration.

It’s a fucking shame.

I really wish I could describe the joy and beauty of the story and how aggressively polarized the combat is. If you have played the game, you understand.

Most people do not have the capacity to flip a switch in their heads that turns them into murder machines. Our character, Booker, is a war veteran (from Wounded Knee, no less), so it is plausible that this violence lurks within him. However, we aren’t given to know this about him for some time, and the Booker we are born into seems a peaceful, melancholy man.

A rattlesnake sheds its skin in a painful process that lasts days. Booker sheds his peace within moments, revealing a beast. It’s quite unnerving.

Another game I played recently was the reboot of Tomb Raider. In that game, we start as a young, 23-year-old woman, who literally screams to the men assaulting her that she doesn’t want to hurt them, she doesn’t want to kill them – she just wants to go home. Her journey from a peaceful student into a rage-filled killer exists but it happens naturally: only when we see exactly how brutal and vile her enemies are can she make the switch. It feels plausible.

Not so much with Infinite.

This bothers me. It bothers me because the schizophrenia of the game is so telling. It’s clear that we have a team of artists and writers who desperately wanted to tell a tantalizing story of great importance and weight. Somewhere on the line, someone said “we must insert combat of this nature because REASONS.” Because it won’t sell, maybe. Because we need to have a “hardcore mode.”

Because REASONS.

Now, to be sure, in the course of the story of Bioshock Infinite there is a switch: one in which we are justified in rage and killing, and that feels true and right (it is when we return from the “other world” and the oppressed have decided to start butchering civilians). But that could have been handled differently.

In the version of the game that exists in my mind, this is the story:

Booker comes to Columbia. He discovers that there is an oppressed underclass, yearning to be free. We tell the story as a mirror of the civil war and the freeing of the slaves. We find the girl, Elizabeth, and she helps us to free the serf class.

This is handled with as little violence as possible. Elizabeth can hop between worlds and travel in time! What fun puzzles can be made by jumping back and forth between worlds and years, stepping on butterflies, to see what changes?

Eventually the right events collide and the revolution unlocks. At this point – and only at this point – do things switch. Revolutions are watered by blood, so of course blood must run, but at what cost? The serf army goes rogue and starts killing the civilian populace in anger. A populace who, though racist, do not deserve death in this manner.

Now we fight. We fight to save the lives of children and their mothers, protecting them over the corpses of their fathers. We rush to get lifeboats working. We disconnect the islands from one another to slow the advance of the mob. We close gates and raise bridges. Destroy gunboats and ultimately make hard choices about life and death.

Then is when we come to the kernel of our story, and the light of the myriad-verse comes to play. We then make our fateful choice once again in the baptismal waters, and the story ends.

Discuss.

Posted in Reviews. Tagged with .


A Cease and Desist Demand from Gaijin Entertainment

On Friday, May 3rd, 2013, I received this missive via email in an attached PDF (full text below). In it, Gaijin Entertainment, a company founded in 2002, is claiming trademark infringement over this domain (“gaijin.com”), which I registered on May 22nd, 1995, and which shows content in the Internet Archive as early as November 5, 1996.

On that same afternoon, my attorney Mike Godwin sent their counsel the following email:

Dear Mr. Goldstein-Gureff,

Please be advised that my client, Brandon Harris, disputes your trademark-infringement claim in every particular.

That is the most polite way to state how vigorously we dispute your attempt to assert flat ownership of the word “gaijin,” a word so well-established in English that it is an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Currently, I’m advising my client to publicize your demand letter, so that the entire game-consuming public will be made aware of your client’s overreaching trademark assertions. In addition, we will of course continue to make clear that Brandon Harris’s website in no way gives rise to any kind of marketplace confusion of the sort that American trademark law is designed to address.

In the interests of allowing you and your client to gracefully retract your claim, we have chosen to refrain from publicizing your demand until you respond to this message, provided that you respond no later than close-of-business Monday. Since I am currently in DC, Eastern time applies.

–Mike Godwin

P.S. I understand that your clients are possibly Russian nationals. You may wish to explain to them the scope and limitations of the Lanham Act in the United States.

–MG

As the time granted to Mr. Goldstein-Gureff has expired, I am publishing this information.

The text of their letter is as follows, with contact information removed.

International Legal Counsels PC
[Contact information redacted]
Re: Trademark Infringement by Gaijin.com

Dear Mr. Harris:

Our firm represents Gaijin Entertainment Corporation (“Gaijin”). Gaijin is a well-known game development company that specializes in creating video games for various platforms (PlayStation3/Xbox 360/iOS/PC). Gaijin is the biggest independent PS3, Xbox 360 and iOS games developer in the Russia Federation and an official partner of Activision, 505 Games, Microsoft, TopWare Interactive, SouthPeak Interactive, Sony Computer Entertainment, 1C Company, Apple and many others. Gaijin’s games have received a range of media and game industry awards including such KRI Awards as “Best Simulation Game,” “Best Technology,” “Best sound” and many more. Gaijin also owns, among other intellectual property, a U.S. trademark registration “GAIJIN” (Reg. No. 4,037,227) (“Gaijin Mark”).

It came to our attention that you registered and maintain a website www.gaijin.com (“Infringing Website”) that infringes Gaijin Mark. By maintaining and offering to public your content via the website, i.e., Infringing Website, having the same domain as Gaijin Mark, you create consumer confusion and mistake as to the source, sponsorship and/or affiliation of the
Infringing Website and Gaijin, thereby infringing Gaijin Mark. Consequently, the main purpose of this letter is to demand that you immediately cease and desist from maintaining and offering your content via the Infringing Website or any other site having the domain substantially similar to Gaijin Mark. Gaijin also demands that you immediately transfer the Infringing Domain to Gaijin.

If you wish to amicably resolve this matter, we should hear from you not later than five days from the date of this letter regarding the demands listed above. Should we not receive your response that would be satisfactory to our client, we intend to undertake all legal actions and seek statutory and actual damages (including punitive damages and attorneys’ fees) afforded to our client under applicable law and equity, including, without limitation, pursuant to ICANN’s Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP).

This letter is written for the purpose of bringing to an end the illegal activities described above and with a view of potential settlement of our client’s claims and may not be used by you for any other purpose whatsoever without our written consent. Our client reserves all rights granted to it by law and specifically reserves the right to withdraw any offers before they are
accepted or before any payments are made and to avail itself of any enforcement, legal action or relief available to him in law or equity. Additionally, this letter is without prejudice to all further rights our client or its publishers, licensors or licensees may have, including, without limitation, rights to injunctive relief, profits, damages, statutory damages, royalties and attorney’s fees. Should you have any questions, please address any communications regarding this matter to us as follows:

Leo V. Goldstein-Gureff, Esq.

[Contact information redacted]

Posted in Life, Topical, Whatever. Tagged with , .


Roger and Me

A couple of years back I wrote a review of a movie that had been the biggest box office smash that year and had won zillions of awards.

I hated it. I hated every moment of it with a passion and fury that outmatched the heat of a thousand fiery suns.

One day, a famous film critic found it and read it. He then tweeted out a link to this review to his thousands and thousands of followers, with the words “THAT’S what I’m talking about!”

Roger had a thing for “citizen criticism”. He used me as an example of how, in the wake of the death of print journalism, that the job of being a “film critic” was granted to everyone in the age of self-publication.

I was terribly flattered at this.

And then this happened:

Screen Shot 2013-04-04 at 7.39.07 PM

Well, shit. “I guess I’d better be interesting,” I thought.

So within the next week I wrote a post about how he was both wrong and right about videogames.

I always liked Roger’s reviews. I liked how he was down to earth, and how abnormally fair his reviews were. He did not compare “Halloween” against “Citizen Kane”; he compared it to “Friday the 13th.” It was fair. He did not believe that you had to have gone to film school in order to understand movies; nay, you simply had to enjoy them.

I like that perspective.

When he got cancer – and moreso after he lost his jaw – something changed within his being. I like to think that he took a long, hard look at his life, what he was doing, what he believed, and what he felt was important – and decided to become a voice for that. His posts took on a humanist, compassionate stance. He was always a bold speaker but now he was boldly standing up for things that were classically outside of the purview of a “mere” film critic.

He was a man filled with truth and righteousness and empathy and courage.

I admire him for that.

And I already miss him.

Posted in Life, Media, Topical. Tagged with .


Pasta Sauce

I’m making sauce today. Someone asked what my recipe was. I was ordered to write more. Here’s the recipe.

Start early. Around nine a.m. run to the store and buy your stuff. This is what you need:

  • 1 sweet onion
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • Soy sauce
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Sriracha

First: take about three-quarters of a sweet onion (depending on size) and 3-5 garlic cloves. Take them apart with a knife like you were a serial killer. Cast iron: dump in some olive oil and then start a sautee going.

Next: find a big-ish pot. Into it dump the crushed tomatoes and then the peeled tomatoes.

Next: wash your fucking hands. I’m super serious now because you’re going to get into it.

Now dive your hands into that pot of tomato goop and tear apart those peeled tomatoes like you were a rabid dog in a room full of babies. Now clean up the tomato mess that got out of the pot so that your wife doesn’t get mad at you.

Put the pot on low heat. Don’t deviate from the low heat. That’s essential. Add in a whole mess of oregano and basil. Add in two bay leaves (I actually own a bay laurel tree, so mine are always fresh). Add: 2 teaspoons sugar and salt. Pour in about a half cup of soy sauce. Give it a three to five second squirt from the bottle of sriracha.

The onions should be done sauteeing now. Add them to the pot.

Brown the ground beef. Drain it and add it to the pot.

Now it’s gonna sit for like, five hours. Stir this pot every now and then, of course. But mostly: play video games and let the smell permeate the household.

Five hours is about right. Three is barely acceptable. Longer is better: the acid in the tomatoes is taking apart the other ingredients. It needs time to work.

Freeze leftover sauce. It actually gets better the older it is. Heat up on the stove, not the microwave.

Posted in Creative, Life, Whatever. Tagged with .